In rally a good camera is more than just a way to show your friends how you spent your weekend. While any camera can shoot decent footage in the day, getting usable night footage can be a different story entirely. To find out what’s best for night stages I got my hands on five cameras and went for a drive.
For me good stage footage is critical. For rallies that have no recce, like Black River Stages in upstate New York, I use previous years’ footage and notes to practice my pacing and find areas where I may need to adjust or emphasize my calls. In the off season I’ll use sped up footage from the various rallies to practice doing notes at an even faster pace than I’m used to. And at the rally recording and reviewing recce footage can give that extra edge or discover that hidden rock on the corner you planned to cut. Getting good footage out of stages only run at night has always been a problem, as neither camera in my kit has truly been up to the task. My GoPro, an original HD Hero, has been thoroughly lackluster, and my Drift Innovation HD1080P, while better, hasn’t exactly been something to write home about. I’d been wondering for a while if this was truly the best one could expect at night or if my kit was just old.
After a bit of badgering, my brother, who when not designing jet engines is a private pilot, lent me his two GoPros, a Hero3 and a Hero3+. I stuck them in the car with my two rally cameras and my dashcam, a “Seezeus ShadowRecorder GT680W” (read: $100 dashcam bought off of Amazon). The first thing I learned from the test is that you shouldn’t use four-year-old suction cup mounts, because they become gag nasty and will require a lot of glass cleaner after you’re done. As for the difference in quality, see for yourself:
Seezeus dashcam: I only included this one in the comparison because it was in my car and recording anyway so why not, but for the cheapest camera of the bunch it did a hell of a job. It wasn’t quite as bright as the Hero3+, but picture quality was just about on par with the GoPro. Add in the good sound quality and the plugin GPS unit that captures speed and location data (which I accidentally forgot to turn on), and it’s got a lot of bang for the buck. I’m pleased with this one.
Drift Innovation HD1080P: To give the Drift the best chance at capturing as much as possible I turned on its “low light” setting. While this did allow it to capture more it also made the image, well, purple. Sound quality was also the worst of the bunch. Despite this I’d love to get my hands on a newer Drift, and will probably replace my current one with the Ghost S. My current Drift is a few years old so it, like the GoPro, may have better night quality in the newer model. Also the rotatable lens of the Drift makes it far easier than the GoPro to mount in the car for a shot of the driver and co-driver.
GoPro Hero (original): I might as well have put a bag over this one. It did a good job of fulfilling the Rolling Stones’ wish of a world painted black, and had good sound quality. That’s about all the positives I can draw from it at night. Still a great camera for daytime shooting.
GoPro Hero3: What a difference over the original Hero! Picture quality was absolutely night and day (I know, I know). It had a bit of graininess and some odd vertical lines, but I’d take it to battle in a rally car any day.
GoPro Hero3+: The fact that the 3+ was so noticeably better than the 3 was honestly a big surprise. I would have never guessed the quality could improve so much within the same generation. This is easily the best camera of the bunch, as it both captured the most and captured it clearest. It also did a great job at selling me on the Hero4, if this is the kind of model-over-model improvement GoPro has.